PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Tom Bowler, candidate for Berkshire County sheriff, on Wednesday proposed expanding existing programs at the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction in a comprehensive new effort to assist children whose parents are inmates at the jail. The new initiative is aimed at breaking the cycle of incarceration.
The program would feature collaboration with social service and mental health agencies, as well as a strong emphasis on existing youth and recreational agencies. The focus of the expanded programming would be on both the offender and their children.
"The older I get, the more I realize that the greatest gift given to me during my life was the foundation established in a loving home where both parents were actively involved in raising responsible children," Bowler said. "The children of some of the offenders at the jail will never know the value of this kind of family foundation."
According to national statistics, the children of incarcerated parents are at least 2.5 times more likely to be incarcerated themselves. The statistics also reveal that children of incarcerated parents tend to have more arrests and more problems with behavior, relationships, school and substance abuse.
"We need to stop this cycle of crime and to do that, we have to expand existing programming to address at-risk youth," Bowler said.
Statistics from 2009 at the Berkshire County Jail and House of Correction indicate that 1,059 individuals were booked at the facility and of that number, 833 of the incarcerated men and women each had an average of two children.
Bowler said there is already a full range of programs at the jail that address the significant issues that led to an individual's incarceration, including drug and alcohol addiction, or a lack of education or vocational training.
"But all too often, these offenders are also parents of little kids, and it is their children who are the most vulnerable victims of their crimes," he continued. "I want to expand on existing programming to include courses on how to be better parents. I want offenders to see a much bigger picture — that their obligation to the community must expand beyond improving themselves and also include providing a better life for their children."
The second emphasis of the expanded programming would be on the children of offenders by collaborating with social service, mental health and local recreational agencies to help fill the gaps in their lives while a parent is incarcerated.
"All kids need to be involved in good activities that help them gain confidence and find positive role models. When a parent is in jail, kids desperately need the involvement of other adults in their lives," Bowler said. "There are so many youth and recreational agencies in our community that can have a lasting impact on a child's life if we make a better effort to connect the kids of incarcerated offenders with the leaders of these agencies."
Bowler and his wife, Dayle, are the parents of four children.